USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Europe and Eurasia

Access to Information = Access to Opportunity

Technology is becoming increasingly important in all public services, but especially libraries. In an age where economic, educational, health, and social opportunities depend more and more on access to the Internet, lack of access means lack of opportunity.

Microsoft decided that the USAID Bibliomist project was a great opportunity to partner with USAID, the International Research and Exchanges Board, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Library Association to spur the evolution of Ukraine’s libraries into modern information resource  and community centers. Microsoft donated $9 million in software to Ukraine’s public libraries as part of its global initiative to endow communities with accessible and useful technology. Today Bibliomist can proudly state that it has helped revive 10 percent of Ukraine’s libraries and firmly planted the seeds to rejuvenate many more. Only through such a broad-based partnership could such an endeavor be realized.

A librarian assists a visitor in how to do an online search. Photo credit: USAID

A librarian assists a visitor in how to do an online search. Photo credit: USAID

Libraries are sources not only of books but also information, so their importance is not waning. Libraries can use technology in a variety of ways. For instance, by supporting public access computers, we help ensure that those who do not have computers available to them at home, work, or school can still benefit from this critical technology. Using technology, libraries can also provide benefits to the community as a whole. For instance, libraries are well positioned to develop community assessments, which are studies that help a community identify its needs and then determine how to go about meeting them.

Today Ukraine’s public libraries are working diligently to close both the digital and the opportunity gap: from giving free classes on resume-building to providing free access to technology. They are striving to provide services and workshops that address essential community needs, from increasing electoral literacy to promoting healthy lifestyles. As libraries discover better ways to deliver information via new media platforms and improve operational efficiencies, they will have a greater impact on a broader population.

In supporting Ukraine’s libraries, our expectation is that Microsoft technologies will be a resource that both municipalities and local community groups will be able to use in their efforts to bridge the digital divide and make their communities stronger.

Although there is much still to do, we’re inspired by what we’ve seen while working with Ukrainians: people taking the lead in changing not only their lives but the lives of those around them, making a real impact in their local communities and in Ukraine in general.

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Making it Easier for Small and Medium-size Enterprises to Do Business

Paige Alexander serves as assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia

Paige Alexander serves as assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia

This morning I spoke at an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as part of the launch of the 2014 World Bank Doing Business report. Doing Business 2014 is the 11th in a series of annual reports benchmarking the regulations that affect private sector firms, focused on regulations that impact on small and medium-size enterprises.

USAID has been a proud advocate and partner for the Doing Business report since it began, and we supported more than twenty countries in implementing the reforms documented in this year’s report – including in a majority of the top reforming countries.

Improving the business environment in our partner countries is demonstrating real impact and benefits for businesses. Numerous USAID Missions and projects around the world contributed to these reforms, benefiting millions of entrepreneurs who can now spend more of their time and money investing in their businesses—the engines of growth and employment around the world—rather than struggling to navigate a maze of unnecessary red tape.

Take the example of Iraq.  In Iraq, it used to take three months to start a new business. Entrepreneurs had to make separate trips to the provincial Chamber of Commerce, federal Chamber of Commerce, and a bank.  It took days just to determine whether a company name was already in use. Now, the entire process takes just 24 days. USAID helped Iraq’s Ministry of Trade establish a one-stop shop for Iraqis to register a business, reserve a name, and fulfill capital requirements. The Chamber of Commerce created an online database to check whether a trade name is already taken.

USAID has decades of experience with commercial law and regulatory reforms, particularly from the remarkable transition to vibrant, free-market democracies that are implementing the Doing Business reform agenda across Eastern Europe. From the beginning of Doing Business, we advised top-reforming countries on legal and regulatory changes, and on the more difficult issues of implementation.

For example, USAID partnered with this year’s top reformer, Ukraine, on credit, customs, and construction permits, supporting Ukraine as it moved up 28 spots to #112. While Ukraine’s ranking remains far below that of other economically developed nations, and the country still faces major issues in terms of its business climate–especially in protection of investors’ rights and contract enforcement–this year’s progress demonstrated that putting political will behind reform can yield results.

We are working with reformers in the Government of Kosovo, the #4 reformer worldwide, on reducing capital requirement for starting a business, registration fees, and the time to register a business. Since 2010 Kosovo has reduced the number of procedures required by a third, reduced the time required by 22 days, and reduced the cost by 16%.

USAID success extends far beyond the Europe and Eurasia region. In Burundi, USAID helped with revision of the land code, supporting a national education campaign about land registration and supporting implementing ministries in the new registration process. Since 2004, the time to register property has declined by 38%. USAID provided technical assistance to streamline cargo processing times and reduce border delays in Rwanda, decreasing the time to export by 57% since 2006. In Guatemala, USAID supported online business registration, decreasing the time to register a business by 50% since 2004.

USAID is proud of our record of support for legal and regulatory reforms–but indicators only tell part of the story. As echoed by my fellow panelists, reform implementation–the key to achieving the intended development impact–remains incomplete. To transform aid recipient countries into attractive investment destinations, governments must implement and enforce broader and deeper reforms that extend beyond technical solutions and also embrace greater transparency, increased interaction between civil society and government, and improved governance–factors that are so closely correlated with economic growth.

USAID will continue our work to make it easier to do business, while also focusing on integrating increased stakeholder participation and good governance as essential components of our reform programs, as well as supporting the implementation of reforms to create conditions for sustainable economic growth.

CSIS streamed the event and tweeted highlights.

Retooling Ukraine’s Court Management through Partnership

Some of us are fortunate enough to have a transformational experience that changes us forever. I had such an experience while participating in designing and implementing the pilot Judicial Administration Certificate Program in Ukraine. Working with the USAID FAIR Justice Project in partnership with Ukraine’s State Judicial Administration and the National School of Judges of Ukraine, we delivered the first academic-based court administration program in Ukraine. It is a great example of how partnerships between governments, academia and development can lead to real change.

The first graduating class of court administrators in Ukraine. Photo credit: USAID Ukraine

The first graduating class of court administrators in Ukraine. Photo credit: USAID Ukraine

With the 2010 adoption of Ukraine’s Law on the Judiciary and the Status of Judges, court administrators were given broader responsibilities and more autonomy to manage courts. Much confusion over who was responsible for what in court operations accompanied the change.  The newly defined court administrators found themselves stymied by a lack of clear professional qualification requirements, incomplete understanding of the parameters of court administration, conflicting definitions of responsibilities and authorities, and limited professional development opportunities. USAID recognized these issues and saw them as opportunities to facilitate court reform utilizing best practices in contemporary court administration, thus improving access to justice for Ukrainians.

Michigan State University (MSU) faculty members joined with Ukrainian faculty members to develop the subject matter and teaching materials. The program consisted of 10 courses from the MSU Judicial Administration Certificate Program with ample adaptations and additions to ensure that the Ukrainian context was represented.  Program participants were competitively selected from among court administrators across Ukraine. Together the newly formed MSU-Ukrainian faculty engaged in team teaching all 10 courses, which covered the internationally-recognized core competencies developed by the National Association for Court Management. The recent result of these efforts was the June 12, 2013, graduation ceremony for 40 graduates of the Ukraine Pilot Court Administration Certificate Program. Many of the students reported at the graduation that they had already achieved noticeable results back in their home courts, with more expected.

In 2014 we expect to graduate another class of court managers. Ukraine’s National School of Judges has agreed to continue the classes after that, which makes me certain that the country is on its way to a new generation of court administrators skilled in the most current management methods.

From the moment I met the USAID FAIR team and discussed the possibility of bringing the MSU Judicial Administration Program to Ukraine, I sensed there was something qualitatively different about this experience. It wasn’t just about education. It wasn’t just about systems improvement. It wasn’t just about overcoming the challenges and doing the work at break-neck speed. It was also about whether a partnership as unusual as the one we were to form could succeed. It surpassed my expectations.

Through the months that we – the entire USAID FAIR Justice Project family, the students, and the instructors spent together, our mission and desires coalesced in a way that made our collective human spirit soar. The Ukrainian judiciary and people are better for it. We have created true leaders for the present and the future. It doesn’t get any better than that. I look forward to continuing our relationship.

Video of the Week: Working for Disabilities in Macedonia

This year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will partly focus on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other agreed development goals for persons with disabilities. Over 1 billion people, or approximately 15% of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. 80% of them live in developing countries. USAID is committed to disability-inclusive development by supporting disability-specific programs to address targeted needs and integrating disability into all our programs. Watch this video about  a success story of USAID Macedonia‘s Persons with Disabilities Internship and Employment Project.

Learn more about USAID’s role at UNGA.


Vocational Courses Give Economic Empowerment to Women of Georgia

From our Mission of the Month: Georgia, learn how a USAID-supported project empowers women to acquire training that allows them to contribute to their family incomes. 

Christina Blurtsian is a 22-year old ethnic Armenian student passionate about the arts. She paints, sings, plays guitar and even makes costumes for one of the local theaters in Tbilisi.

“When I was a kid, I would spend nights painting. It was my true passion. I would draw on a piece of paper, cardboard, asphalt, even on a wall-paper. Soon sewing became my passion. It first started when my mom gave me a doll and I decided to make her a dress.”

Christina Blurtsian. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

Christina Blurtsian. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

Since then Christina has made several dresses for her friends and actors as well.  She will turn this passion into a profession soon. After completing a USAID-supported vocational training course in sewing machine skills, Christina will start working at an apparel factory.

In partnership with the apparel industry, the USAID Economic Prosperity Initiative (EPI) developed a short-term training program that connects vocational colleges and the apparel industry.  The partnership allows the apparel sector access to a qualified workforce that will increase the industry’s productivity while women like Christina gain skills, empowerment, and employment.

Sewing machine operator training students in Georgia. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

Sewing machine operator training students in Georgia. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

“I prefer to start working at an apparel plant. After I gain enough experience, I am going to teach others. I’m trying to find a permanent job not just because I need to earn money, although I have to support my parents. I’m striving to achieve my goals.”

Christina is very clear about her plans and goals. In a large family of seven, she is now the only one living with her parents. Christina’s mother works at a grocery store, her father is a pensioner, and their income barely covers utility bills. Christina knows her earnings will be an important contribution to the family income. Still, Christina believes hard work, a sense of purpose and diligence are qualities that matter just as much as a better living of her family. “Realizing my interests and aptitude in life is a key drive for me. Everything I do, I do for this reason.”

Iveta Tskhovrebashvili. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

Iveta Tskhovrebashvili. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

Iveta Tskhovrebashvili is a dedicated mother who completed the same course. At 40 years old Iveta saw the course as a second chance to finally have a real profession. She’s always had a knack for sewing. “I would often make myself a dress. It was during the particularly difficult times when not many people could afford fancy clothes, especially my acquaintances. My dresses did draw attention; none of them would miss a compliment. People really liked them,” Iveta recalls.

The sewing courses showed Iveta new techniques and helped her improve. “Speed, meticulousness, the ability to work with complex garments – these are the skills I’ve acquired through the courses,” Iveta says.

Iveta believes the courses will help her find a job and support her family. “My husband is without work and there are so many things my daughter needs that we cannot afford. Once I start working in an apparel factory the situation will become better,” she says.

Both Christina and Iveta are interns at a local apparel manufacturing company and, if successful, will secure a job.

Learn more about our Mission of the Month: Georgia. For ongoing updates in the region, like USAID Georgia on Facebook and follow them on Twitter (@USAIDGeorgia)!

Belarus Community Connections Program Celebrates 15 Years of Success

As USAID’s Belarus Country Director for the last four years, one of my great pleasures has been working closely on the Community Connections Exchange Program. Today that program, which so effectively helps Belarusian professionals to understand and adopt best practices to strengthen and develop the country, is celebrating its 15th year in Belarus.

Since 1998, Belarusian participants – professionals and specialists across a broad spectrum of fields that are crucial to the country’s development – have visited the United States on three-week exchange programs tailored to addressing their professional needs. The programs that USAID offers these visitors focus on several sectors, including civil society, local economic development, business education, finance, agriculture, social services, environment, health, culture and journalism. The exchange programs demonstrate how these sectors work in the States and allow participants to draw on lessons learned and tailor applicable approaches for use in the Belarusian environment.

Participants of the Community Connection Program on arts discuss challenges in the area. Photo credit: USAID

Participants of the Community Connection Program on arts discuss challenges in the area. Photo credit: USAID

In these last four years, I have met hundreds of the almost 900 Community Connection participants. What has impressed me most is how effective these dedicated people are in bringing best practices and modern solutions to the challenges that face Belarus.  I have seen firsthand the positive impact that Belarusian professionals have had on their local communities by working for change and utilizing the knowledge and experience they gained while in the U.S. Our Сommunity Connections alumni have taken the lead in advocacy efforts, contributed to public policy formulation, and conducted awareness campaigns in Belarus.

Many of our program alumni have been innovators of extraordinary initiatives and accomplishments. Sergey Drozdovsky, a lawyer and a prominent activist, launched several nationwide campaigns to promote the rights of people with disabilities. Yury Zisser founded the most popular and largest internet portal and information resource in Belarus – TUT.By. Natalya Kobrynets, an activist of the NGO, Healthy Choice, brought a model for a drug prevention program known as “Snowball” from the U.S.  and launched it in several city schools. Natalia Novitskaya and Anna Pugach opened a resource center for children and young people with disabilities and their families while also designing needed educational materials.

Other Community Connections alumni contributed to the promotion of legislation that improved the business environment and implemented projects encouraging entrepreneurship. They engaged community members in volunteering activities, assisted disadvantaged populations, and initiated new services by non-governmental organizations.

One of USAID’s more successful contributions to Belarus’s development – brought to Belarus by the 2012 Community Connections participants – helped generate entrepreneurial enthusiasm by developing and transforming green tourism routes into ecotourism clusters. Going forward, this will be especially beneficial for rural development as it ensures job creation, revenue generation, and economic growth. The efforts of these green tourism visionaries have laid the foundation for the first organized and truly functional tourist routes and resulted in the creation of the country’s biggest ecotourism association, the launch of a website, and a dramatic increase in the number of private bed and breakfast sites in Belarus. Their initiatives coalesced around a separate USAID/Belarus project that is supporting local eco-tourism initiatives as a way to strengthen the private sector in local economies.

Through 15 years of focused and sustained effort, the Community Connections program has planted strong seeds for Belarus’s development in civil society, economic growth, and social services. I am happy to have had the opportunity to help guide the work of the Community Connections program as it has begun to reap the benefits of our long-term investments. As my time at this Mission draws to a close, I can say that the Community Connections alumni who have so earnestly implemented the ideas they picked up during study tours to the U.S. represent a special Belarusian resource that will continue to support the country’s development for years to come.

Photos of the Week: AID in Action: Delivering on Results

Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?

USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.

Take a look at the Agency’s top recent and historical achievements in promoting better health; food security; democracy and good governance; education; economic growth, and in providing a helping hand to communities in need around the globe.

Read the stories behind the results in the special edition of FrontLines: Aid in Action: Delivering on Results.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDpubs for ongoing updates on the best of our results!

Srebrenica Smiles

David Barth serves as Mission Director to Bosnia and Herzegovina

David Barth serves as Mission Director to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Srebrenica. For years, the name has been synonymous with tragedy. The massacre in Srebrenica marked the darkest moment in the blackest of wars.  During the second week of July, 1995, 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were slaughtered by paramilitaries of the Army of the Republika Srpska and 30,000 women and children were forcibly deported in an act called the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War. Eighteen years later, the wounds have barely begun to heal, if at all.

The town remains wracked by ethnic tensions. It remains the most economically depressed municipality in the country, with unemployment approaching 50%. The obstacles to economic growth are legion. Infrastructure, workforce skills, isolation, poor governance. And a major casualty of that is hope. One resident told me that because she’s from Srebrenica, it is expected by society that she never allow herself to be happy. Imagine the impact that has on children.

With that in mind the staff of USAID/Bosnia and Herzegovina set out to create one special day for the children of this remote town. NBA basketball player and star of the Bosnian national team Mirza Teletovic joined the mission at the Srebrenica International Peace Camp to spend quality time with the children of Srebrenica; to talk about sports, ecology, human rights, and most importantly, hope.

In addition to a basketball clinic featuring Mostar native Teletovic, USAID-grantee Eko Sports Group taught courses in water sports, including scuba and boating. Eko Sports Group is a marvel as well. Made up of disabled athletes, including landmine victims, the Eko Sports Group has made itself the country’s most prominent aquatic sports trainers. They provide a valuable service and are also tremendous role models on the power of perseverance.

The principal responsibility of our Mission is to administer precious foreign assistance resources in the most efficient manner to achieve tangible results. This is our core objective. But we are also in a position to promote our American values. So I was enormously proud to watch our team working with their hands to build a camp worthy of these kids. I think that you will see from this video that in this case, their smiles represent an overwhelming tangible result.

Learn more about our work in Bosnia and Herzegovina and like us on Facebook for ongoing stories and photos from the field.  

From the Field in Georgia: Collaboration Bears Fruit for Georgian Farmers

I love a sweet, juicy mandarin and I’m lucky to live in a country where these near-perfect citrus fruits are grown. Farmers here in Georgia grow some of the best mandarins in the world. But getting these delicious fruits to market and eventually into the mouths of other mandarin-lovers can be a challenge.

Revaz Kokobinadze is a mandarin grower from the Adjara region in western Georgia. On his own, he only has cash on hand to purchase 60 percent of the materials he needs to grow mandarins on his quarter-hectare orchard. But now that he is part of a farmers’ group established through USAID’s Economic Prosperity Initiative, he and farmers like him are able to obtain interest-free loans to get what they need for successful mandarin production.

Revaz Kokobinadze in his orchard. Kokobinadze is one of the more than 1,000 farmers who will benefit from USAID supported interest-free loans. Photo credit: Deloitte/USAID Economic Prosperity Initiative

Revaz Kokobinadze in his orchard. Kokobinadze is one of the more than 1,000 farmers who will benefit from USAID supported interest-free loans. Photo credit: Deloitte/USAID Economic Prosperity Initiative

USAID has helped establish 50 farmer groups for Georgia’s two leading agricultural exports — mandarins and hazelnuts. Farmers were reluctant to come together at first, but they soon realized the commercial incentives of working together. As the saying goes, sometimes it takes a village. Now, these farmers make decisions together on everything from production and management practices, to the types of treatments to use.

To help these farmer groups succeed, in June 2013 USAID’s Economic Prosperity Initiative developed an interest-free financing scheme, which allows smallholder farmers to buy the agricultural materials they need and conduct soil testing. When farmers join together to make purchases, they can buy in greater volume and get a better price.

USAID then linked the farmer groups to a microfinance organization to provide credit for agricultural materials and laboratory services. The arrangement allows farmers to purchase what they need at rates they could otherwise not afford. The microfinance organization pays the suppliers and the farmers pay back the interest-free loans after the harvest.

More than 1,000 mandarin and hazelnut growers will benefit from these interest-free loans.

Belonging to a farmer group not only enables farmers to afford necessary materials, but also empowers them to improve management practices through consultations with extension specialists as part of USAID’s Economic Prosperity Initiative.

These same groups will see additional benefits of farmer groups during harvests later this year. USAID is helping to establish partnerships with hazelnut processors and mandarin packaging houses. Farmers now have what they need to produce better quality products on a larger scale, and they are more likely to receive a better price for their products.

Because of the loan he received, Revaz anticipates a greater harvest of high-quality fruit this year. “It was a simple procedure,” Revaz says. “A representative of the microfinance organization came to my plot and interviewed me about my farm’s production.” Once he submitted his application, the approval took less than 20 minutes.

By working together, Georgia’s farmers are finding it easier to get their delicious produce to market, and that’s good news for mandarin consumers like me in Georgia and the entire region.

Learn more about the Economic Prosperity Initative.

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